Sleeper Bus

In researching travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, which is about three miles from Angkor Wat, we learned about the night bus. We were at a local B & B/restaurant that books travel from Phnom Penh talking to a young clerk with a goatee (he reminded me of Vince Gaudes). He was very helpful, telling us all our options.

The night bus sounded best, but he said it was “expensive.” It’s a relative term. The tickets were $12 each ($24 for a unit that sleeps two people). Since we were not too happy with the accommodations in Phnom Penh we decided to book the tickets and skip the last night at our hotel, Queen Wood.

We were supposed to be picked up from our hotel at 11 pm. At 11:20 pm I was starting to get nervous. Fortunately, the minivan arrived shortly thereafter. We made two quick stops to pick up more passengers before arriving at the bus station.

We didn’t get much help, really any, from the minivan driver, but after showing our tickets around a bit we found the bus. There were about four locals trying to manage getting several large boxes of oversized durian fruit and passenger luggage into the storage compartment of the bus.

The storage compartment on this type of bus is really huge. So were the durian fruits. They were about two feet long and probably the same around, oblong shaped and plenty smelly. We left our luggage with the arguing porters and got in line to get in the bus. After I saw that our luggage actually made it into the compartment I got on board, where the driver had us remove our shoes and put them in plastic bags.

We made our way down the isle, which was lined with bunk units, lower and upper, on either side. Each unit had two beds, each with a pillow and blanket. Once we figured out which unit was ours we climbed in (we had an upper) and settled in.

At either end of each unit is a small wall and on the far wall a warning was printed in three languages warning passengers to secure valuables. The passenger across the isle from us also warned us about theft.

I took a couple Meclizine tablets (work great!) and once we were underway we watched Dumb and Dumber To on my tablet. Pretty funny, but not at the level of the first.

After the movie, I put all my belongings into my day pack and basically slept on it. Or more accurately, dozed on it. The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is rough! In many places it was unpaved. The ride was at times very rough and very loud. Still, laying down with your head on a pillow and under a blanket under these conditions is dramatically more comfortable than sitting up in a seat.

I’m guessing the bus left around midnight. At about 2:30 am the bus stopped and the lights came on. Maybe half the people debarked to pee in the shadow of the bus. I got out to find we were on an unpaved portion of the road right up against a big ditch maybe 20 feet deep.

So I’ve been on the bus for two and a half hours, in a country where the temperature demands pretty much constant water consumption, and my bladder is full. Standing on the edge of the ditch next to squatting women and peeing men, knowing, since my bladder is full and I’m over 50 years old, that I’m not going to get a decent stream going. I can’t lean forward for fear of falling into the ditch, so hips thrust forward and shoulders back I’m just dribbling. People are coming and going and I’m still there getting nowhere. Really unpleasant. Really. I gave up. Not the lowest point of the trip, but I’m too old for this stuff.

On the bright side, the sky was stunning. I haven’t been out in the middle of nowhere, away from the lights of the city on a clear night, in a very long time. I wish I would have taken more time to take it in, but I was in a sour mood after failing to empty. 🙁

I got back on the bus and five minutes later we were underway again. Eventually, I fell asleep and dozed on and off. In hindsight, I’d still take the night bus, but book two tickets to have a unit to myself. I like Steil, but sleeping butt to butt with him is pretty low on my list of favorite things to do.

We arrived in Siem Reap about 7:15 am. It took over seven hours to travel just under 200 miles (about 28 miles per hour, did I mention the roads are really bad here?).

David in the pool at Passaggio Boutique HotelWe spent the day hanging out, recuperating from the night bus. The hotel has a small, but really nice pool. I got myself a not too uncomfortable sunburn. 🙂

Roasted Sparrow

John’s been feeling dissatisfied with the local fare due to his vegetarian diet (basically he’s been unable to fill up on the local veggies), so we’ve been to the local KFC (potatoes) and Pizza hut yesterday and today.

Obviously, one does not travel to the other side of the planet to eat at the same restaurants you find at home, so John, feeling a bit guilty, I guess, volunteered to go to the place we’d rejected the night before. It’s an open air establishment across the street from our hotel in Can Tho.

Birds on the MenuThe menu has all sorts of exotic dishes like frogs’ legs, turtles, goat, turtle dove, pigeon and sparrows.

Roasted sparrows jumped out at me immediately. I imagined several tiny breasts on a plate. For $3.20, I had to try it.

Ten Roasted SparrowsI was wrong. Very wrong. It’s not easy to see, but there are ten roasted sparrows on that plate. Head and all. All that’s missing are the feet and feathers.

Herr Steil, technofail that he is, shot the above video in portrait mode.

Five Roasted Sparrows and Five Sparrow HeadsSo I only ate five and not the heads. John ordered steak french fries knowing there’d be a chance that he’d be served steak and french fries rather than steak fries. So I ate a good portion of the steak, too.

Not that I would have eaten all the sparrows. They’re not great. Kind of taste like crunchy liver. I’m guessing they don’t dress the birds before they roast them. No, of course they don’t. They’re tiny!

 

River Food

River Vendor Making a Barbecue SandwichSo I like to try foods from the street vendors, “street food,” but haven’t had anything from a river vendor. That changed today.

John and I took a boat tour of one of Can Tho’s floating markets. We had sweet hot coffee from a floating beverage vendor. Very similar to what we had at the shop next to our hotel.

Later on during the tour we crossed paths with a woman selling sandwiches from her boat. By the way, there’s plenty of good bread, baguettes, etc. to be had in Vietnam, which I found pretty surprising.

She had some mystery meat on skewers in a bowl. I asked what it was, “barbecue” she said. Hmm. Well, the baguettes looked great so I bought a sandwich and hoped for the best. She garnished it with shredded carrots, basil, chili sauce and another vegetable I didn’t recognize.

I never did recognize the meat, but am guessing it was pork. The sandwich was delicious and cost lest than a buck (20,000 VD). It was obvious from her expression and disposition that she’d deeply gouged me and was happy about it. The kickback to our boat operator wasn’t hidden. Makes me wonder how much these people live on when a dollar has room for a kickback.

Barbecue Sandwich

The basil was a nice addition.

Traffic

The traffic in Saigon is pretty nuts. As I mentioned in an earlier post many motorbike riders will drive up onto the sidewalk for a bit and then back into the street in an effort to get around a slow driver or other obstacle.

At uncontrolled intersections (and you’d be surprised at home many seemingly big intersections are uncontrolled) the traffic simply interweaves in all directions. If you want to cross the street at one of these intersections do so slowly, but deliberately, while watching the traffic. Riders and drivers will go around you. Don’t try to avoid them, let them avoid you. It seems crazy, but it works.

Coffee

Coffee Shop
The Vietnamese drink a lot of coffee. It’s a not too widely known fact that Vietnam is the second largest exporter of coffee behind Brazil and many think is poised to take the number one spot. So there’s a lot of coffee here.

This morning, John and I stopped by the small shop next to our hotel for a quick coffee. The proprietor spoke no English, but managed to communicate black coffee and coffee with milk. Mine was with milk, John’s black.

His came in a small cup, like espresso, mine was in a small juice glass, in a hot water bath. The coffee is very strong and sweet and the milk is sweet and condensed. 15,000 VD for the two cups, so about $0.70. Good deal.

Coffee